A story in the New York Times' Week in Review section yesterday made me go to the dictionary twice (poor me). I used the Times' Web site feature that lets you double-click on a word to get a definition from the American Heritage online dictionary via Answers.com (an excellent feature), but then I discovered free Oxford English Dictionary, so I'm using that as my reference. The words, in bold:
Behind abstruse legal argument, Justice Eady may have been reluctant to reward Mr. Mosley too generously for what he said in his ruling was “reckless” behavior.
He is obtrusively rich, with homes in Paris, Monaco and London.
The adjective abstruse, according to the OED, has two meanings. The first, "concealed, hidden, secret" is listed as obsolete. The second, current usage means "remote from apprehension or conception; difficult, recondite."
Obtrusively is the adverb form of the adjective obtrusive, which, when applied to a person, means "excessively or annoyingly self-assertive, ostentatious, overbearing, or intrusive." It comes from the verb obtrude, which means "to proffer forcibly, unduly, or without invitation" and "to become noticeable in an unwelcome or intrusive way; to intrude; to impose oneself; to project out from, protrude."
OK, now I knew what the words mean. But they look similar. So, digging into the OED's etymology, I found that the words all have the same Latin root word, the verb trudere, which means "to thrust." In Latin, the abs- prefix means away (abstrudere=thrust away). The ob- prefix means " towards, against, in the way of, in front of, in view of" (obtrudere=to thrust toward or against). There's also intrude (intrudere=to thrust in).
Makes sense. You thrust something away to hide it; you thrust something toward someone to show it off.
I wonder if the Times' writer intentionally used the two related words in the story. But I'm glad he had me dig in the dictionary. I like it when an article or book does that.
If you've read this far, you might be as big a nerd as me. Congratulations.